Surviving the Influencer Plague
The desperate chase for followers is over, and we couldn’t be happier with the results. This summer, Jocelyn and I will travel to the International Food Blogger’s Conference in Juneau, Alaska, to talk about how we survived what I like to call the influencer plague and built a thriving bartender services business.
It was 2016 and our partnership business was officially drying up. We’d watched the slow decline over several years and worked hard to recreate the success our blog was having from 2011 to 2014. In 2012 we won Saveur Magazine’s Best Cocktail Blog award and requests for partnerships poured in based solely on the merits of our online content. Our voice was original, our story was unique, our photography was good enough, and our cocktail recipes were amazing (if we do say so ourselves!). We checked the boxes that brands needed checked in order to move forward with paid opportunities. Some of the partnerships were simple posts that spotlighted a product and shared a link to where readers could make a purchase. Other posts were more extensive, spanning over several months by cleverly weaving the brand into recipe posts, restaurant & bar reviews, and girl’s night out stories. We were paid anywhere from $50.00 to $7,500.00 for our work.
But then the requirements shifted. Our reputation for quality content was not enough. Marketing executives and PR managers wanted to know how many people subscribed to our RSS feed. Then they required a screenshot of our monthly unique visitors. Then, what was the average length of time someone spent on our page. That’s when my obsession with analytics started and for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t to guide content but to figure out how to please the brands interested in doing business with us by having the “right” numbers.
I started to include phrases like “Subscribe to our RSS feed so you don’t miss a post!” and “Like this recipe? Share the link with your friends!” I began adding more photos of the cocktails from different angles to keep people on the page for an increased viewer time. There were closeups of the limes, the fizz, the toothpick, the drink coaster…I got very creative.
The chase was futile because the target was now always moving. How many “likes” did our Facebook page have? How many RTs were we getting on Twitter? How often did we “Periscope?” Did we use Vine? How many views were our YouTube videos getting and were we planning to up our production? Did we use Snap? How many Instagram followers did we have and what was our engagement ratio? And let me just tell you…it was never the right answer.
Suddenly the partnership deals we used to get were going to mommy bloggers with tens of thousands of Instagram followers who could post about the whiskey they drink after the kids are tucked in. Or the fashionista who included the newest wine opening gadget as something she tosses in her latest luxury tote. What?!
It was during a drive to Santa Barbara to teach a mixology class to reps from different media outlets that I realized Jocelyn and I should probably revisit the idea of starting a bartending services division. We would receive a call every few months for a referral and unfortunately weren’t much help. The mixology instruction was a great-paying gig, but the lucrative deals were now few and far between. The lower paying blog assignments took way too much time to make it worth our time. And no matter how hard we tried, it was not looking like we’d be the darlings of Instagram anytime soon. Following thousands of people just to ditch them after the follow-back feels cheap and sleazy.
It didn’t take long to get our bartending services started. In December of 2016, we lucked out with booking a big Hollywood Hills party for some YouTube celebrities (oh…the irony) and knew that night that we were on to something. We had been in the cocktail recipe and bartending business since 2010, beginning with our books and our blog, and our online presence was already well-established with clear branding (thanks to the amazing and talented Jocelyn). Sliding into a business that was no longer virtual was way easier than we’d ever imagined because we’d already done so much groundwork over the years. And most importantly, it was FUN.
In Juneau I’m going to dig into how we built This Girl Walks Into a Bar into an enterprise with way more value than an Instagram follower. Yes, we still love the app, but the desperate chase is over and we couldn’t be happier. Do you want to know the real kicker? The partnership pendulum has swung back. It turns out that mommy bloggers pushing whiskey and fashionistas selling wine keys doesn’t quite move the needle the way an expert can.
See you in June!